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Fri, Feb 9th, 2001
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A Fear of FlyingBy John TorgrimsonMonday, February 5, 2000

When I booked an October flight to Ireland for my son and I last summer, I believed that by planning far enough in advance I would eliminate any chance of a screw-up later on. After all this was not a last minute best-buy on the Internet. I had a real live ticket that said Minneapolis - Amsterdam - Dublin. One connecting flight, two carriers: Northwest and Aer Lingus. What could go wrong?

My son and I arrived at the Minneapolis terminal more than two hours ahead of our scheduled flight. I looked at the thin lines and thought, “Man, this is going to be easy.” It wasn’t until the ticket agent handed us our boarding passes with, “That will be Amsterdam, London, Dublin. Enjoy your flight,” that I thought, “Oh, oh, we’re in trouble”.

“What’s London doing in there?” I asked. “If I wanted to connect in London I would’ve skipped Amsterdam.”

“Hm,” she said, and escorted us two blocks down the terminal to another agent. Agent 2 did a clickety clack on the computer and said that the problem looked to be in Ireland.

“Flights are being re-routed from Amsterdam to Ireland,” Agent 2 said. “They’ve got you going through London.”

When I asked why, she mumbled, “I don’t know, but maybe its a terrorist thing. You know they have problems in Northern Ireland.”

I thought, “Wow, what a thing to say to a would-be-traveler to Ireland.” But before I could even get a “What are you talking about?” out of my mouth, Agent 2 asked Agent 1 to take us two blocks back to meet Agent 3.

Agent 3 looked like he moonlighted as a SWAT commando - flat top haircut, pale green eyes and a stern, no-nonsense disposition.

Agent 3 clickety clacked on his computer, paused to look at our tickets, then clickety clacked some more.

After what seemed like 15 minutes of clickety clacking, number 3 looked up and said , “There’s an Aer Lingus strike.” It turned out that the Aer Lingus cabin crew members went on a 24-hour wildcat strike on the very day my son and I were flying into the bloody country.

A half hour later we had our new tickets, but the SWAT guy warned us about our bags.

“When you get to Stansted you’ll have to get your bags and put them on the Ryan Air plane,” he instructed.

“Where the hell is Stansted?” I asked. I had been to Heathrow and Gatwick in London, but Stansted? And what was Ryan Air?

Eight hours later, we arrived in sunny Amsterdam from Minneapolis, only to find all of our newly booked flights to Dublin cancelled. We spent a half hour in the ticket line getting new tickets, again through Stansted, on a Ryan Air flight leaving - you guessed it - NOW.

“Will our bags make it?” I asked over my shoulder, as we began fleeing toward the next gate.

“I doubt it,” the agent yelled back at us.

Stansted, I found out, is in the middle of nowhere, south of London toward the coast. It is an airport that handles lots of cargo and serves as a terminus for short hops to Europe.

Two of our three bags made it. It was my son’s that was lost. He was ticked. The lost-luggage people said they would send it on a later plane and that when we got to Dublin to fill out a lost-luggage form..

Our 6:30 p.m. Ryan Air flight to Dublin turned into a 9:30 p.m. flight, delayed three hours because one of the cabin crew was stuck in traffic on the M11 - the London freeway.

We finally arrived in Dublin at 10:30 at night in a raging storm, eight hours after we were originally scheduled to arrive. But miracle of all miracles, all three of our bags were twirling on the luggage wheel when we finally cleared customs.

I didn’t blame Northwest for my problems getting to Ireland, nor for my lost bags. That would come later.

But it just goes to show how little tolerance there is in the world of air travel today, that when one airline hiccups, like Aer Lingus did with its cabin crew strike, it causes a chain reaction that leaves all other airlines with flu-like symptoms.

After eight great days in the Emerald Isles, my son and I arrived back in Minneapolis safe and sound. Unfortunately none of our bags did - they were still in Amsterdam.

The woman at the Northwest lost-luggage counter looked besieged. There were at least 40 people behind me from my plane, all with the same complaint.

The air travel industry is in chaos. They talk about “on-time performance” with the full knowledge that there is a good chance that you will not leave or arrive on time.

Whenever I travel by air today, I plan as if I am going to be spending a lot of time in airports. I assume that something will inevitably go wrong; delays, cancellations, wrong seat assignments, missing luggage - all of these things are the norm in the industry today.

When the lost-luggage lady handed my son and I each a $100 voucher on Northwest I asked her sarcastically, “Is this transferrable to another airline?” But before she could respond, I answered for her, “Never mind, it wouldn’t matter anyway.”

By John Torgrimson

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